Sarah Pedlow traveled to Budapest in 2009. Originally a San Francisco artist, Sarah holds degrees in studio and visual arts and was pursuing her studio practice in Hungary at an artist residency. An innate curiosity propelled her one day, to visit the Ethnographic Museum. She walked through the rooms of examples of intricately embroidered, traditional Hungarian clothing. Garments wild with color and motif and heavy with effortful stitch, filled the museum’s galleries.
“That was it,” she recalls, “I was totally blown away. I was transformed.”
The striking patterns and the evidence of time and care required to achieve such complex pieces inspired Sarah into research and compelled a stitching practice of her own. This life of study of culture, story and skill has been Sarah’s pursuit ever since. Sarah now has two practices: her personal, photographic and stitched collage work, and a rigorous teaching practice which joins the ethnographic embroidery skills of diverse cultures with the hands of students far and wide.
In 2019, Sarah moved to Amsterdam. As she walks around the city, she immortalizes fleeting moments through her camera. Her photographs depict details of clothing, architecture, and small objects she passes on the sidewalks that have been overlooked, lost, or forgotten. She sees each one like a poem, a collection of fragments, a way to document and preserve time, history, and daily life. “That’s part of my interest in embroidery, too,” she says, “that it not be lost or forgotten.” She physically combines embroidery with her photography: cutting, stitching, bending and drawing on her prints, attracted to the conceptual preservation of time combined with the tactile quality of thick, textural stitched lines and motifs.
Sarah’s embroidery research and teaching is motivated by this personal desire to preserve the history held within each technique. In keeping with the way stitching has historically been passed down (side by side, one person to another) Sarah chose to learn from master stitchers in their places of origin, rather than attend an embroidery school or program. For more than a decade Sarah has traveled the world, stitching with women in Iceland, Ukraine, Romania, Portugal and Mexico, absorbing craft and culture, examining historical garments with her eyes and hands. Each technique she learns is its own way to understand place and tradition.
The techniques of each region hold unique symbols, documentation, and stories, yet at the simplest level, each is connected through the shared, careful use of needle and thread.
This month at Tatter, Sarah will be teaching Lavradeira embroidery, a technique that originates in Viana do Castelo, a city in northern Portugal where the Lima River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Due to its location, it became a major trade port, which made a range of materials, dyes, and textiles from other regions readily available. As a result, the style of clothing that developed in the mid-late 1800s features a range of bright colors and is elaborate in its construction, material, and embellishment. The blouses, vests, and aprons are beautifully and densely embroidered, often featuring bold and winding floral motifs. Working within these traditions is a way to connect and learn from them, as well as preserve them, so that they may be learned by generations to come.
Sarah Pedlow, the founder of ThreadWritten, is an artist working with embroidery and cultural preservation through workshops, textile travel tours, and fine art. ThreadWritten supports women artisans, traditional and contemporary textile practices, and the preservation of heritage through research, education, and the cultivation of a global community of makers. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Sarah moved to Amsterdam, NL, in 2019 where she now lives and works. She has taught and lectured at the Fashion Institute of Technology, The Textile Arts Council at the de Young Museum, San Francisco School of Needlework and Design, WildCraft Studio School, The Embroiderers’ Guild of America, Crafts Council Nederland, and Selvedge. She holds an MFA in Visual Arts from Rutgers University (US) and her work has been featured in Uppercase, Veranda, House & Garden UK, Piecework, and Selvedge magazines. Find her artwork at sarahpedlow.com.